Earth Day Network

The EU’s Stance Could Mean the End of the African Elephant

Earlier this month, African Wildlife Officials and the African Elephant Coalition (AEC) – a consortium of 29 African countries dedicated to supporting and protecting a healthy elephant population – warned of the likely mass extinction of African Elephants as a result of the EU’s recent opposition to a global ban on the sale of ivory. In a position paper released on July 1, the European commission echoed the hopes of officials in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana to replace the current global embargo on ivory sales (due to expire in 2017) with a sustainable system for tusk trading in the future.

However, the coalition highlights that 100,000 elephants have been lost in just three years, with several countries – such as Mozambique and Tanzania – reporting losses exceeding half of their 2009 elephant populations. The most recent figures show a decrease in African Elephant population by over 61% since 1980. It’s gotten so bad that it’s estimated that somewhere an elephant dies at the hands of poachers about once every 15 minutes; furthermore, experts have observed traumatized elephants becoming increasingly nocturnal and migrating in “mega–herds” of up to 550 elephants in attempts to avoid poachers. Consequently, AEC officials were appalled at the EU’s recent opposition to the Annex I listing of the African Elephant, which would outlaw all future international trade of ivory.

The organization noted that along with the tragic and frequent deaths of tens of thousands of African Elephants that the ivory trade has also seen the deaths of many rangers and fueled terrorism that continues to destabilize the continent. In a recent comment, the president of the coalition’s council of elders, Azizour El Hadj Issa – a former minister in Benin – stressed the threat that this terrorism poses to EU security and the importance of their support, stating: “The situation is alarming in most of our countries … We need the EU to support us and become part of the solution to this crisis.”

While Europe supports the extension of the current ban after 2017, the EU also backs the inclusion of a system of exceptions that would allow for the export of some elephant products; however, many experts believe that there isn’t currently any way of effectively preventing illegal ivory from finding its way onto the legal market. In 2007, research showed that a one-off legal sale of ivory prompted a significant and widespread increase in poaching. The AEC believes the only solution – and the only way to save the African Elephant – will be an Annex I listing without exceptions, and urges the EU to reconsider their position before the voting bloc takes its final position on the early September Cites debates.